While the first issue of the “Cocaine Insights” series focused on the trade of cocaine, the trends, and the evolving market, the second issue concentrates on the variety of cocaine products available. As cocaine presents an important health and security risk for Europe and globally, it is important to understand the ways coca is cultivated, cocaine is produced and trafficked, as well as the market dynamics and the ways the different actors participating interact. Nevertheless, it is also important to understand that cocaine is not a single product, and that a multiplicity of products imply a multiplicity of problems for law enforcement and health authorities. In this regard, the second issue of the Cocaine Insights- Cocaine: a Spectrum of Products provides information on the cocaine consumer products, as well as their manufacture and consumption. The second issue of the series developed under CRIMJUST II was launched on 7 October 2021 in an online event, where the main findings of the report were presented.
Despite cocaine having a single origin, the coca leaf, there is a plethora of products derived from it. Different products are consumed differently and by different groups of people, calling thus for a specific set of actions to fight the trafficking of each product. Although there are differences in consistency, chemical forms, and purity (the final product is often mixed with other substances to increase volume and profits), the common origin of these products is highlighted, implying that tackling the problem at its source will impact the entire market.
Cocaine is an alkaloid extracted from the leaves of the coca plant. The products of the cocaine leaf are either a base or The latter is usually consumed through nasal insufflation (“snorting”), while the former is usually inhaled in vapour form. Oral use and injection are other means of consumption that are less practiced. Three main families of the products derived from the salt and base forms are distinguished. The distinction is based on the main ingredient and the manufacturing method.
- manufacturing process consumer products (MCPs) derived from coca paste and cocaine base;
- freebase consumer products (FCPs) derived by converting cocaine salt back to base form;
- consumer products based on cocaine hydrochloride (typically in powder form)
In the MCP category, some products are crack (the South American version of crack is not the same as the one found in North American and European markets, the latter being obtained from cocaine in base form, while the former describes multiple products depending on the country), merla, oxi, basuco, pitillo, mono, and paco. The names often vary or describe similar products but in different regions and countries. All of these are smoked and easily mixed with other substances, like tobacco, marijuana, or caffeine. Levels of cocaine in such products vary from 4% to 70%. They are usually considered drugs used by lower socioeconomic classes. The potential for mixing them with other substances, thus maximising profits, as well as the fact that they are smoked, favours easy purchase and consumption. Other than the immediate health hazards the consumption of cocaine products poses, the way they are consumed is also a factor of health issues, since the sharing of crack pipes, for example, can lead to the transmission of diseases.
Cocaine products nomenclature related to their country of presence.
Source: Cocaine Insights 2- Cocaine: a spectrum of products, CRIMJUST & UNODC, 2021
Freebase and crack fall under the FCP category. Both can be either smoked or injected. Their preparation consists of submitting cocaine to The only difference between crack cocaine and freebase is that the latter goes through an extra stage of extraction that eliminates impurities. It is worth noting that this method is dangerous, as highly flammable substances are used, while crack is much easier and safer to make. The popularity of these products is often explained by the ease of manufacturing, something that also brings down the price and makes the drugs accessible to a larger audience. Freebase and crack can both be made from cocaine hydrochloride, but crack is less pure, easier to make and more prevalent than freebase.
The third category is cocaine hydrochloride, or powder cocaine. Its level of purity varies, with impurities constituting up to 10% of the total, but the most important non-cocaine materials found in the powder are cutting agents (adulterants and diluents). These agents are added usually along the supply and distribution chains to increase product volume and profits. Some common adulterants are levamisole, phenacetin, diltiazem, hydroxyzine, lidocaine, and caffeine. While some of them may be legal and, generally speaking, harmless, some present health hazards of their own. Phenacetin, for example, can cause kidney, blood, and cardiovascular system toxicity, while prolonged use of levamisole can be potentially lethal, as it affects white blood cells. While adulterants have diversified in the past years, cocaine purity has increased, as was also noted in the first issue of the Cocaine Insights.
Although cocaine is of natural origin, the products derived from it vary much in terms of composition and product consumption. Understanding these differences allows authorities to better address and tackle the health and security issue that derives from the trafficking of cocaine and its products. Cocaine is not a single substance but a range of products that reflects different realities in terms of the supply chain and the hazards it represents for its consumers. Through the Cocaine Insights, CRIMJUST provides relevant research, both when it comes to understanding the social realities and when it comes to understanding the underlying medical and health implications of cocaine production and trafficking. This research provides authorities with a better understanding of the multiplicity of factors and actors participating in the market, as well as the variety of consumers. Understanding the multifaceted reality of the market is the first step to effectively tackling the problem and the danger it represents.